Clare Dunne’s Herself , the Closing Gala at this year’s Dublin International Film Festival received rave reviews today at Sundance, a possible sign that we may already have the next great Irish film this decade with it only 25 days old. Further to that, the film’s festival success shows how Ireland’s international reputation is continuing to grow; programmers, distributors and viewers alike from all over the world are looking out for Irish talents more and more. The last ten years have seen our profile expand considerably, Hollywood stars like Saoirse Ronan and Colin Farrell are more acclaimed than ever, filmmakers are flocking to our island to make use of our beautiful locations and talented crews, it’s not all sweetness and sunshine but it’s been a good decade. It took a bit of mulling over, so strong was the fear of leaving great work out of a list of only ten, but at last here is Film In Dublin’s celebration of some of the best Irish films of the 2010s, classics that we’ll be going back to again and again.
In as far as a criteria could be used to narrow down this list, it was this: films directed in Ireland, by Irish directors. That means leaving out some brilliant work, most notably the English-language projects by Yorgos Lanthimos, The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer and The Favourite. There’s nothing reactionary going on here, this just allows a different set of films some time in the spotlight rather than elbowing for room with some of the most acclaimed films of recent times (in other words, making lists is hard). For similar reasons the list has been limited to one film per director, there are films by the likes of Lenny Abrahamson and Paddy Breathnach that you should absolutely still check out despite their absence here, and choosing just one meant making lists within lists, a rabbit hole that dug this writer way down to a mantle of madness. Lists are by their nature a restrictive way to discuss art, but the SEO wants what the SEO gets, and if the below prompts readers to seek out great work and continue to expand their horizons in the wonderful world of Irish film, then it’s still a net positive.
So without further ado, check out Film In Dublin’s list of the best Irish films of the 2010s below. Raging that we’ve missed something? Let us know in the comments below or on our Twitter or Facebook.
10. Mattress Men (2016, Dir. Colin Quinn)
Despite the disappointing revelation that Mick goes to sleep in those reasonably-priced mattresses in a Blue shirt, the documentary is still as engaging and insightful as ever. In fact, it only adds to the film’s message; beyond the fun time spent with classic Dublin characters, Mattress Men is a quietly revealing story about the struggle to assert dignity in the daunting face of economic struggle. Nominally focused on Michael Flynn reinvented himself into ‘Mattress Mick’ to protect his business during the recession, the more interesting subject is his employee Paul Kelly, who balances selling beds and raising family with doing the vast majority of behind the scenes work in making the videos that made Mick go viral. While still looking at the quirk, the film looks beyond it too and finds a critique of how even the locally and very relatively famous benefit from the hard work, online savvy and artistic expression of others but balk at giving them credit or compensation.
9. Song of Granite (2017, Dir. Pat Collins)
A biopic of folk singer Joe Heaney only in a very loose sense, Song of Granite is less a list of the events of the life of the sean-nós singer and more an effort to capture what the florid Irish songs he favoured might look like put to film. Stylised and poetic, Pat Collins’ filmmaking reveres the music that made Heaney, while using voiceover to give a more rounded picture of the man himself; The Colour of Pomegranates with a dash of documentary. Stunning black and white cinematography, precise editing and beautiful singing create a unique viewing experience.
8. Kissing Candice (2018, Dir. Aoife McArdle)
After cutting her teeth making advertisements and music videos for the likes of U2 and Bryan Ferry, Omagh native Aoife McArdle made her feature debut with this stylish Northern Irish noir. Loud music and sumptuous lighting has the film dripping with the mood of sullen, lustful, resentful teenagers, adrift in a bleak view of the North where the Troubles have ended but little has sprung up to replace it for the next generation. Candice longs to escape so badly that a boy she dreams about is willed into her real life, but it’s hard to dream in the vivid world McArdle puts on screen without it curdling into a nightmare, and violence is never far away. Captivating performances by young leads Ann Skelly and Ryan Lincoln anchor this disorienting depiction of the high drama of teenage years.
7. Sing Street (2016, Dir. John Carney)
One of Film In Dublin’s best films of 2016, Sing Street is a bit more of a positive look at teenage years. Full to bursting point with charm, Sing Street looks like starting a band with your mates feels, laying optimism on thick to drown out the darker world that lives outside Top of the Pops. Fun and flighty, it’s impossible not to get swept up in the enthusiasm on screen and it has to be said, the songs are total bops. These may be the only notes Once director John Carney knows how to play, but when he does them this well who are we to argue?
6. Song of the Sea (2014, Dir. Tomm Moore)
Cartoon Saloon continue to excel in finding modern ways to use traditional animation and Song of the Sea might be their most gorgeous achievement to date. Wonderfully designed characters flow through vibrant and detailed backgrounds as the animators draw from Irish mythology to create a gorgeous and moving story about grief, loss and the resilience of the young. Colourful in every sense and teeming with life, few films make ‘every frame a painting’ as literal as this.
5. A Date for Mad Mary (2016, Dir. Darren Thornton)
On the face of it, A Date for Mad Mary is a straightforward farce; a girl fresh out of prison insists she has a +1 for her best friend’s wedding, she absolutely doesn’t, awkward moments, laughs and heart-to-hearts ensue. And it works on that level, but the film takes the trouble to dig deeper into Mary’s troubles, her desires and the complexities at work in relationships with people who you love but who might drive you, well, a bit mad. One of the best talents to emerge in Ireland in the 2010s whether it was on film, stage or television, Seana Kerslake elevates the film another few notches with a fantastic performance, pulling us into Mary’s perspective and exposing a sensitive, quick-witted and hopeful interior beneath the surliness.
4. The Farthest (2017, Dir. Emer Reynolds)
Documenting the NASA Voyager mission, which sent sent probes Voyage I and II billions of miles through our solar system to gather photographs and information about Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune and on into deep space, few films have captured the awe of space exploration as well as this. Emer Reynolds’ imaginative staging throws up some shots as beautiful as anything the probes have captured themselves and gives the eggheads behind the mission room to nerd out over their accomplishments (Carl Sagan is treated like something between Prince and the Pope). Between interviews, well-selected archive footage surprisingly impressive computer-generated imagery, The Farthest makes the nostalgic and the technical feel alive right here and now. The result is more emotional than might be expected, what starts as an upbeat science class ascends to the profound.
3. The Hole in the Ground (2019, Dir. Lee Cronin)
A paranoid tale of a mother who suspects her son has been replaced by something inhuman, there’s a lot of food for thought to chew over in this scary story. If horror movies reveal the deeper anxieties of the cultures they come from, what fears of modern Ireland are brought to light in The Hole in the Ground? A story where violence is fled from but the traumas are left to fester, where no one talks about evils at work lest they be accused of madness, where what seems sweet and innocent on the surface is sinister and wrong. Do some digging with Lee Cronin’s impressive feature debut, tense and creepy, and you’ll find there’s a hole in Ireland, where monsters live, powerful and ravenous, a hole where children are buried, and to rise from that hole is to crawl through hell itself. The heart between Séana Kerslake and the impressive young James Quinn Markey adds stakes to a slow-burning, subtle horror, a film that has learned attentively from the likes of Stanley Kubrick and Jennifer Kent.
2. What Richard Did (2012, Dir. Lenny Abrahamson)
Ireland’s most high-profile director made an impressive and successful leap to mainstream in the 2010s, making a popular cult-hit in Frank and finding success on the awards circuit with Room. He even followed those up with a underappreciated lost gem with the alienatingly morose but fascinatingly timely gothic horror, The Little Stranger. All are great, but his first film of the 2010s remained his best, a simple but devastatingly effective morality play. Richard is the handsome, affluent, popular captain of the rugby team, the Irish equivalent to being the star quarterback and the mayor’s son at the same time. He’s polite, ambitious, confident, affably dominating his social circle, bending it to his will. It all seems like a too-idyllic coming-of-age story, that is until Richard does What Richard Did. One of Abrahamson’s greatest strengths as a storyteller to date has been his perfect insight into Irish social dynamics, this particular set of characters are perfectly realised and the story never leans a heavy hand of judgement while it looks at them, grounded performances and non-flashy camerawork patiently wait for Richard and co to reveal themselves without tipping the scale. Jack Reynor has done bigger but he hasn’t done better, yet. This is masculinity and wealth and privilege and this is what they do in the dark. They did it before this film, they’ve done it since, and Abrahamson lays the causes behind the sins bare with forensic precision.
1. Rosie (2018, Dir. Paddy Breathnach)
Given that Rosie is about a pressing issue in Ireland, a crisis of homelessness which shows no sign of letting up (certainty not under the current lot), it would be easy to categorise it as Important, a prestige picture on an Irish scale, and call it a day. But the distancing haughtiness and over-reaching scale of films of that nature is completely absent here, Paddy Breathnach is a director with too much care for characters for that, and so he uses Roddy Doyle’s solid script to zero in on the crushing every-day impact of being without a home to Rosie and her family. It’s the little moments that really drill into us emotionally, an inconvenience here, an embarrassment there, if they keep coming and coming and coming they will tear you to shreds and with no home to protect them, the Davis-Brady clan are stuck in the thick of a thousand awful moments that threaten to drag them down.
Pace and tone here are tools of beautiful, sharp glass and will cut accordingly; a warm and happy family scene can turn quicker than a blink into something awful, tension will rise suffocatingly on such simple things (a trampoline in a garden, a chat on a doorstep), while the camera shifting its view seamlessly as it perfectly captures the various stages of understanding that Rosie’s children are at. Moe Dunford, our great hustling actor who only got busier as the 2010s went on, is a steady rock as the father, but Sarah Greene as Rosie is the most greatest weapon in the film’s arsenal, powerful and devastating. It’s a challenge for an actor to play keeping it together and falling to pieces at the same time, Greene carries it off with ease, she’s Cotillard in Two Days One Night but stuck in a car and forced to do a lot of phone acting, dragging on us hearbreaking emotional journeys again and again while she rings hotels and begs, essentially, for a few nights of respite. Intelligently shot with a strongly emphatic core, Rosie shows Irish film at its best, top talents telling meaningful and current stories.